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What is hermeneutics? The definition I like best is: The art and science of interpretation. There are rules to follow but how we use those rules is a skill one must acquire through practice. We use hermeneutics every day without thinking about it. When my wife says to me “I just love the smell of your breath after you drink your Muscle Milk,” I know she is using sarcasm. It’s extremely easy to interpret her statement for several reasons. We speak the same language, we live in the same time frame, we know a lot about one another, and I have knowledge about sarcasm as a speech act.
So, what happens when we begin our journey towards interpreting the Bible? Why are there so many differing opinions about what it says?
Obviously, there are many reasons for this. One of them, however, has to do with a lack of understanding about hermeneutics. Even though there are other reasons for having so many differing ideas regarding the Bible, this series will focus on those that stem from improper use or ignorance of hermeneutics.
One thing that is important to say in any work on biblical hermeneutics is that the bible is interpreted just like any other book. There are no special rules that apply only to the bible that do not apply to any other book, at least no rules that I can think of. What is probably true, however, is that due to the nature of the Bible we may need to pay attention to rules we generally don’t have to think about in our everyday reading.
When I read a sports article on espn.com I likely don’t have to be concerned that I’m going to do an excessive amount of misinterpreting. One of the main reasons for that is the sheer volume of shared culture, language, and assumptions between the author and me. Even though we’ve likely never met, we have a mass of similarities that make it almost second nature for me to interpret properly. It’s as near to intuitive as is possible.
That task becomes more difficult with any ancient text, including scripture. The reason for this is what I call the “gap” or the “distance” between the writer(s) and today’s readers. The greater the gap, the more work it will take to properly interpret what the author was initially intending to say. The task of hermeneutics is, after all, the task of finding the most probable original intended meaning of the text.
To do so, we must approach the biblical text with a good work ethic and with humility.
Keep in mind that hermeneutics is not application. How to apply ancient scripture to modern life is a separate topic. So, the purpose of these blogs will be to help people in their quest to discover the most probable intended meaning. And off we go! – Hermeneutics Part 2
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